The iPad’s Killer App

The iPad’s Killer App

Just what the world needs – another video game platform. But following the recent release of Apple’s new touchscreen tablet PC, the iPad, it looks like we have one. Not only can the new super-sized iPod touch run all the current iPod games and applications, it can also host souped up titles with bigger graphics and more programming muscle on its much bigger display. For the time being, it’s easy to dismiss the iPad as an overgrown iPod. And since the iPad can run iPod games, gamers might overlook this sleek plate of technology as more of the same old thing. However, from an unlikely corner of gaming comes something that makes the iPad special. That’s because the most interesting gaming experience on the iPad yet turns out to be good, old-fashioned tabletop board games.

Monopoly, chess, backgammon and Scrabble lead the way with classic  games that have made an effortless shift from the kitchen table to the iPad.  Laid flat, in between a couple of players, the iPad turns into an engaging, social and easy-to-use game board. Perhaps no current game better illustrates the power of the table top iPad than Smallworld ($4.99), however. A kooky fantasy title, Smallworld plays sort of like Risk, but with flying skeletons, merchant trolls and seafaring amazons. And even though the iPad version of this popular board game only allows for two players rather than five, shrinks down the board and trims up some of the rules, the digital version remains a faithful rendition of the original. Most of all, the hundreds of cards, tokens, tiles and parts that make the boxed game a treasure chest of pieces and a headache to keep organized are now easy to manage digital pieces of art. No more losing a dragon token here or a die there. The iPad keeps everything neatly organized on the screen.

So while you’d probably never whip out the boxed version of Smallworld over lunch in the food court—who wants to get mayonnaise on the beautifully illustrated game board?—you just might enjoy a quick game of Smallworld on the iPad with your burger. It’s easy, convenient and surprisingly social.

Unlike videogames, which developed a strong audience for single-player fun, board games have always been about getting people together. The joy of the board games keeps a vibrant culture of gamers lurking in their local game shop, checking out the latest import from Germany and fiddling with the most recent expansion pack for their favorite title. From The Settlers of Catan to Dominion, board game fans have developed their own community culture around cardboard and paper you play on the dining room table.

This revolution in gaming is really a happy return to our gaming roots. The iPad brings back some classic fun by making the tabletop a new play  space for the 21st century gamer. Less expensive, easier to learn and just as much fun to enjoy with friends, the era of the electronic touchscreen game board is here.

Who’s it for: Board games might not show off all the neat tricks you can perform with your iPad. But no other application at this point does a better job of bringing people together face-to-face over a new piece of technology.

Best part:  Learning a new board game takes patience and, often, someone who already knows how to play. Since the computer keeps track of the rules and the score, learning a new board game on the iPad is quicker and easier than reading through piles of rules

If you like this, try that:  Once you’ve got the board game bug from playing on the iPad, check out your local game store for the paper-based versions. Digital games are cool. But there is something pleasing about riffling through all the parts of a game spread across a table.

* Editor’s Note: To read more articles by David Thomas, be sure to visit his blog.

About David Thomas
David Thomas is a game critic, researcher and teacher who writes for top game magazines and websites. He’s covered games for many newspapers, teaches courses on the history of digital media and is completing his PhD in architecture to ask:“What makes a place fun?”

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